As ‘younguns, it’s particularly difficult to navigate boundaries at Work.
When I first entered the Working World, I didn’t know that boundaries existed. I couldn’t follow the dance between co-workers — their back & forth tennis matches, which differed based on age or seniority or proximity to the Top Dog’s ear.
Why couldn’t I just do? Why did I have to explain and seek approval and talk to the Right People?
I felt like I would move forward ten steps one day, but fifteen backwards the next.
About seven months into my new job, I heard Travis Kalanick (CEO of Uber) speak, after receiving some particularly hot heat from the Press. He described this idea of having X-Ray Vision: He was able to see a future that wasn’t always clear to Outsiders. These Outsiders, blind to his perspective, were constantly trying to bring him down to “reality” as they saw it.
His push-back to the Haters deeply resonated with me, because at the time, I wasn’t a savvy chess player when it came to my career. I didn’t understand why “playing the game” mattered.
Or frankly, where to start.
I wasn’t aware of the intricate network and colossal institution that was before me. I didn’t think in terms of politics; I just acted, because I had X-Ray Vision too. And looking back on it now, I don’t think that the Outsiders enjoyed these superpowers. Especially, because I was a 22-year old Privileged White Girl, young and naive.
These Outsiders tried to stop me every chance that they had.
So, I had to learn it the hard way. Through trial & error, I felt like I was groping around in the dark until it finally clicked.
So, I want to save you all the trouble.
How do you get to do cool things at work — when you know you’re capable of it, but your age or gender or experience might not imply the same?
1. Be Humble
It’s easy to enter a new role, and think that you know everything. You have a fancy degree, you know how to operate The Facebook, you have ambition. Lots of ambition.
Like I said, We have to be aware of what we signed up for. Someone has to do the shit-work, so why wouldn’t it be the newest person?
Use your judgement. Accept what you can (and should) gracefully, and push back on what doesn’t seem right.
If you pursue your goals with the the mindset of “How can I be most helpful?” — you’ll know when it seems appropriate to say No out loud, or when you should roll your eyes at your desk.
2. Be clear about your goals
When you first get to a new job, write out your goals and what you want to get out of this experience.
This takes a lot of introspection:
- Why did I take this job?
- What can I learn here?
- Who will teach it to me best?
- Where do I want to go next — and who can help me get there?
Most people passively enter into a new role. They mope along, and expect others to hand them the best projects. They expect their managers to be mind readers.
That’s not the way Work works. You need to be clear and explicit about what you want. First, refer to point Number 1, and then: Communicate.
And, these goals may (and should) change over time. Goals and ideals and our ideal Nirvana change with our attitude, and the rest of our lives outside of Work. Be sure to revisit these questions every few months.
Don’t expect anyone to be your Yoda. You need to do You.
3. Understand the concept of Time
When I first entered the Working World, I wanted everything to happen Yesterday.
I didn’t realize that there were broader plans, and projects and strategies already in motion that didn’t revolve around Me (see point number 1).
My concept of time was so out of sync with that of my company’s, I couldn’t set real expectations for myself. My ambition and drive and frankly, youth, was so on Fire, I constantly asked myself these questions:
- Why were people talking in terms of years instead of weeks?
- Why was I still working on that project?
- Why wasn’t I already promoted?
Sometimes, We need to slow down.
I’m not saying that we should accept this laggard pace, or reduce our ambitions by any means. But, we need to understand how the Time of our workplace ticks, so we could set more realistic goals.
And then, We could stop being so frustrated with where we are Right Now.
Think of how many people would kill to be in your position. It’ll help you find that balance between Ambition and staying grounded.
4. Create “small wins” as proof-points
As with anything, building Trust takes time.
When you’re new, you have a clean slate. You don’t have a reputation, or a Brand, yet. You need to build it brick by brick.
If you’re not-so-new to the Working World, maybe you already know what your Brand is. You have already seen the skills or projects that you do best. you know what your main selling points are.
All you need to do is prove it.
Yet, if you’re a newbie to Work — or you haven’t really thought about your Brand yet — take some time to understand how you want to tell the story of You.
- Do you love working on excel (ha), or analyzing problems?
- Do you thrive off of organizing — are you super process-oriented?
- Are you a “Subject Matter Expert” (Talk the Talk, huh)
Figure out your best skill set, and just like you build up your Brand on Insta, look for small wins to prove yourself at Work. Because we know that actions speak louder than words.
For example, do you really want to be running your own team? Ask for an Intern. Is your goal to manage a project from end to end? Be the go-to person for one part of your current project.
Then, do a kick-ass job. And keep track of these small wins on your personal #humblebrag sheet.
5. Talk to the right people
Even though having friends at work is vital to your success — they can’t really help you in terms of getting promoted.
Make sure that the right people are hearing about your Small Wins.
You keep your #humblebrag sheet for your own motivation, but also so that you can tell the right people (in the most Humble way possible) that you’re really, really good.
This is an Art. Also, it takes Time.
You need to figure out who’s who in your organization. Feel them out. Get coffee with them every couple of weeks, so that you have a connection.
This is important.
Then, when you feel like your ammunition of Small Wins is large enough, make the ask for your next move. Don’t be scared.
You deserve it.
Figuring out your own unique Style is the foundation to all of the above. It’s really a self-exploration process. You are understanding You and what You ultimately want in terms of your career.
Don’t put this on your To-Do list, and scrap it.
It’s a Work in progress — everyday.
What are some of the ways that you’ve been successful at work? Leave a comment!